Consider this situation. Mr. Vazquez teaches a high school science class, and equipment is in short supply. So every week, he puts students into teams with the idea that students would share equipment and learn to work in groups at the same time.
Mr. Vazquez wants to let students make as many independent decisions as possible. He always puts the students into random groups of four or five and asks them to volunteer for one of the four team roles, which are leader, recorder, checker, and speaker.
The number of males and females in the class is roughly the same. Because the groups are formed randomly, the ratio of females to males in each group always varies. Regardless, the leadership and speaker roles tend to go to males, and the recorder and checker roles tend to go to females. Mr. Vazquez starts to notice this trend. It’s not clear if the females are simply always volunteering for the recorder or checker roles, or if something else is going on.
What do you think Mr. Vazquez should do? Consider the following options six options. Which do you think would be the most important course of action from among these options? Which would be the least important?
- Change the names and duties of the roles to remove their hierarchical connotations.
- Assign females to the leader and speaker roles, and males to the recorder and checker roles.
- Ensure that the gender makeup of each group is always split 50/50.
- While addressing the whole class, teach all students about self-efficacy, incremental learning, stereotypes, and stereotype threat. Then, keep the groups the same for a four-assignment rotation and require each student to take a different role for each of the four assignments.
- While addressing the whole class, teach all students about self-efficacy, incremental learning, stereotypes, and stereotype threat. Then, encourage every student to volunteer for the leadership and speaker roles.
- Speak to the females individually and encourage them to volunteer for the leadership and speaker roles.
Optimally, this would be a multi-faceted effort. All teachers would have received professional development so everyone would start to warm the school and classroom climates. The entire school and each teacher would spend a little time to educate and reinforce lessons for all students about internal barriers such as self-efficacy, stereotypes and stereotype threat, and incremental learning.
In classrooms, an effective strategy might be to keep groups together for a four-assignment rotation, thus allowing each student to take on each role. The teacher ensures that the students understand that when they are in the leadership role, their job is to make sure everyone is included, heard, and valued. The recorder’s role, similarly, is to record fairly, making sure each student’s input is recorded accurately.
Chilly Climate Behavior
Bernice Sandler identifies several major areas of chilly climate behavior from teachers and peers. One is devaluation, where male students are more highly valued than female students. There’s stereotyping through comments, such as saying things like, “I wish you women would speak up more.” Or, “So, Matias, what do Mexicans think about this?” as if all Hispanics speak with one voice.
Another area is where the expectations are simply different for males versus females, or for students of color. And finally, you see chilly climate behavior when there’s harassment between male and female students in class, but no action is taken to stop them. Both the females and males in the class may interpret this as acceptable behavior.
Remedies for a Chilly Climate
Sandler describes some remedies for classrooms with a chilly climate. Initially, examine your teaching behavior. Videotape your class and analyze how many times you offer additional help to particular students, how many times students interrupt, or how you ask questions to different students.
Ensure that you ask all students the same kinds of questions. Avoid asking males critical thinking questions and females short-answer or factual and easier questions.
Additionally, remember to “coach” females as well as males, especially in mathematics, the sciences, and computer usage. Coaching conveys the belief that the student is bright enough to say more. Use questions such as “Why do you think that is?” or statements such as “Tell me more about this.” Asking questions that have no “wrong” answer, such as, “What kinds of questions do you have about the lesson?” encourages students to participate.
Additional remedies include scheduling nontraditional learners together, facilitating support groups or clubs, providing professional development to all teachers, and paying attention if a student raises a concern. If one student voices feelings of being ostracized, many other students may actually be feeling the same way but are not speaking up.
For more ways to warm a “chilly climate,” read the work of Bernice Sandler.